THE CHANGING NUCLEAR THREAT: The ‘Sapphire’ File

TOM CLANCY MIGHT WELL HAVE crafted the story line for “Project Sapphire”: 600 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium left over from a secret Soviet submarine program and then forgotten; the rediscovery of the material by Kazakhstani authorities at an ill-protected facility on the windswept steppes of Central Asia; a race against the onset of winter by a team of U.S. scientists and technicians who were preparing the sensitive cargo for airlift out of Kazakhstan; the discovery of empty canisters with Tehran addresses during the repacking of the uranium; and the successful removal of more than the declared inventory of highly enriched uranium from the vulnerable facility. Its resemblance to a Hollywood thriller notwithstanding, Project Sapphire was a real-world nonproliferation success story. Its outcome, however, was not preordained. The case shows both the opportunities and challenges of post-Cold War diplomacy and suggests possible lessons about the problems of and prospects for nonproliferation progress in the former Soviet Union.